Faculty Focus


Creating the Perfect PowerPoint for Online Teaching

While other forms of visual presentations have cropped up—such as Prezi and Empressr—PowerPoint remains the presentation software of choice. Yet many folks develop PowerPoint presentations without fully understanding all components of the software and/or presenter tricks that could make for much more effective PowerPoint presentations.

The suggestions that follow will help you create effective PowerPoint presentations.

Know your audience. You must be fully aware of what the audience is expecting from your PowerPoint; also, be aware of your audience’s education level—the complexity of your text and visuals must match what the audience will understand.

Create an outline to help you develop your PowerPoint presentation. The outline gives your PowerPoint the structure it requires, allows you to develop a balanced array of visuals, and gives you an initial look at the time required for students to view your PowerPoint slides. Your PowerPoint should not be so long that the audience loses interest, and if you have a set amount of time, you need be sure your PowerPoint fits within that time.

Become familiar with all features of PowerPoint. PowerPoint is a powerful presentation tool with many features that allow you to jazz up your slides, import other slides, add audio and video, change background styles and colors, etc. Spend whatever time it takes to fully familiarize yourself with all that PowerPoint offers; you’ll be able to develop a more professional and engaging PowerPoint presentation—something your audience will appreciate.

Do not become dazzled with the “whistles and bells” of PowerPoint. It is easy to be seduced by the over-the-top features of PowerPoint, such as transition and animation. Yet too much use of these will distract from the primary purpose of your PowerPoint: getting important information to your audience in an easy-to-understand manner. Certainly, some of these fun tools can help make your PowerPoint more engaging and can spotlight especially salient items in your presentation. But be careful that your PowerPoint does not turn into a Disney cartoon, resulting in a presentation that is less than effective. Overall, keep the design simple and basic.

Limit each slide to a few bulleted points. Your audience needs to quickly understand what you are presenting. Many folks load up each slide with far too much text. This defeats the purpose of a PowerPoint presentation. Keep each slide to no more than four bulleted items, with each item a maximum of one line in length. If you need to add more information, you have two options: (1) have some notes (use your outline for this) and simply add the material—by voice—when appropriate; and (2) at the bottom of each blank slide there is a section called “Speaker’s Notes”—you can add in here what you want to say to your audience beyond what they see on a slide (only you can see the Speaker’s Notes).

Use graphics to highlight your information, not overtake it. A visual on a slide won’t take the place of your text—and it shouldn’t—but it can highlight a point you are making and help to engage the audience. Have a nice balance of visuals and colors, and spend some time searching for the spot-on, already-created visual. (There are many sources: online, your own, items you’ve scanned, etc.) You also can create your own graphs and/or charts and use screenshots of items.

Your voice can truly bring a PowerPoint to life. In an online PowerPoint presentation, the audience hears more of your voice than if you were in a room with them. Thus, each clearing of your throat, sip of water, “um” and “uh,” and licking of the lips can often be heard. Speak slowly; be sure to vary your tone (no one enjoys a monotone!); stay enthusiastic and excited about the topic; and use your voice to bring audience attention to important points, closing of a subject, introduction of the next slide, etc.

Always do a slideshow run of your PowerPoint to view it as an audience member. You’ll find one of the drop-down menu items on the top tool bar of PowerPoint is called “Slideshow.” Here you have various choices that allow you to view your PowerPoint as a slideshow. Be sure to do this so you will see what your audience will see and you can quickly pick up on items that might need to be corrected, such as typos, font size, size of or lack of visuals, too much text on a slide, length of time for the PowerPoint, etc. And for each slide, make a note (e.g., #14—correct spacing; #15—OK; etc.). Once completed, make the changes and then run the slideshow again.

Check spelling, grammar, spacing, font size and style, etc. It is crucial that all components of writing be perfect. Be sure that the font size and style are easy to read. Consider line spacing and visual placement.

Always do a trial run with at least one other person. While we will see items that need to be corrected or tweaked, rarely do we see them all. Have one person or more look at it to get their input. You’ll be surprised at how many helpful suggestions you will receive about things you had not considered or just didn’t see. Your audience will benefit from this extra input.

Errol Craig Sull has been teaching online courses for 17 years and has a national reputation in the subject, and in writing about and conducting workshops on distance learning. He is currently putting the finishing touches on two online-teaching books.

Excerpted from Teaching Online With Errol: An Online Educator Must: Creating the Perfect PowerPoint!Online Classroom, 12.4 (2012): 6.